With the local economy still chugging along well, state revenues up and Democrats set to assume control of both houses of the General Assembly next year, Fairfax County supervisors and School Board members are upbeat about the chances for advancing key priorities.
County officials hope the General Assembly will make “significant” education investments during the next session, said Supervisor Jeff McKay (D-Lee), chairman of the Board of Supervisors’ Budget Committee, during a Nov. 26 meeting with Fairfax County School Board members.
“You cannot continue to have this amount of revenue surplus and be proud of the fact that we’re in the top 10 states in income and in the bottom 10 states in education funding,” said McKay, who in January will take over as Board of Supervisors chairman. “That narrative has to change, especially when the lion’s share of that income money is coming from Northern Virginia. And so we will not be shy. We have not been in the past and we expect results in this General Assembly.”
County officials expect revenues will grow by 1.9 percent in fiscal 2021. That would bring in $85.7 million more, which according to current funding arrangements would be split with $45.2 million going to Fairfax County Public Schools and $40.5 million to the county government.
County officials have identified $111.8 million in additional funding priorities and the school system has further funding needs of $163.8 million. Officials are projecting fiscal 2021 budget shortfalls of $71.3 million for the county and $79.1 million for the school system.
County officials are crafting the fiscal 2021 budget using the guiding principles of affordability, equity, access, sustainability, collaboration and engagement, innovation and place-making, said County Executive Bryan Hill.
Officials are projecting the need for $59.5 million in fiscal 2021 to cover 2.5-percent step increases and 1 percent market-rate adjustments (i.e., cost-of-living increases) for all employees except uniformed public-safety workers, who would get a bit more.
County officials also will seek an additional $13.7 million to pay for 52 more public-safety employees and related initiatives. These include police body-worn cameras (13 positions); $4.2 million to cover partial-year costs (including 23 positions) for the new Scotts Run Fire Station in Tysons, slated to open in January 2021; and $4.1 million for 16 positions at the police department’s future South County District Station.
Supervisors also are considering dedicating a penny on the real-estate-tax rate to pay for affordable-housing initiatives, officials said.
School Board member Sandy Evans (Mason District), who will retire at year’s end, called the affordable-housing measure “fantastic” and said the county’s One Fairfax policy “puts front-and-center the equity issue.”
“I hope that at the same time, we also work together as two boards to combat resegregation,” Evans said. “I think that we have seen, unfortunately, increasing socioeconomic resegregation, which we of course see in our schools.”
Supervisors also are in the initial stages of pondering an “admissions tax” that would be collected at for-profit entertainment facilities in the county and used to support arts initiatives. The up-to-10-percent tax, which is among the few that supervisors could impose without first having to hold a public referendum, would generate a maximum of $6 million per year, McKay said.
Such a tax “would be extremely valuable to the arts community,” said outgoing Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova (D), who urged county officials first to reach out to industries that potentially would be affected.
In formulating Fairfax County Public Schools’ budget, school officials said they will seek $107.8 million to pay for 2.5-percent step increases and a 1-percent market-rate adjustment for the school system’s workers.
The school system also will need an additional $17 million for strategic investments and about $36 million more to cover other expenses, among them $20.2 million for approximately 1,700 additional students; $2.8 million for the “FCPSon program,” which provides technological devices to all county high-school students; and $2.8 million more for the textbook reserve, officials said.
Challenges facing the school system are higher enrollment, demographic changes (i.e., students who require additional services, such as ones in special education or those who need additional assistance to learn English) and the possible imposition of news Standards of Quality by the Virginia Department of Education, said Superintendent Scott Brabrand.
School officials would like to extend the “FCPSon” program to middle schools, citing successes at the high-school level, he said.
“Kids are coming up and saying, ‘It has changed my life,’” Brabrand said.
Brabrand will release his proposed fiscal 2021 budget Jan. 9 and the School Board will hold public hearings about it Jan. 27 through 29, then adopt the proposed budget Feb. 6.
Hill will present his proposed fiscal 2021 budget Feb. 25. Supervisors will advertise proposed maximum tax rates for the new fiscal year on March 10, hold budget hearings April 14 through 16, mark up the budget April 28 and adopt it May 5.
School Board members then will hold further budget hearings May 11 through 13 and adopt the school system’s new budget May 21. The school and county budgets will take effect July 1.
County officials on Feb. 25 also will present the Board of Supervisors with a proposed strategic plan for fiscal 2022, with hoped-for adoption in May or June, Hill said.